By Elizabeth Loftus
There’s a question, residing within the bigger question of “Why should we fully fund education in Washington state?” It is an incredibly important question to think about. Why should we care about special education?
Do you have a family member or friend with a disability or a medical disorder? I do. My brother has attention deficit disorder. As a kid growing up, people often thought he was lazy or forgetful, but smart. They overlooked his day-to-day struggle to complete simple tasks like cleaning up his dishes, remember to put his homework in his backpack or finishing a paper for class. It wasn’t until he was in high school that we got his diagnosis. He was able to get extra help to stay organized, to help break down assignments and to manage his time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 11 percent of children ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with attention defifict hyperactivity disorder. That is 6.4 million children who need the same supports my brother needs. Where else would he have gotten those supports but school?
Are you the parent of a child with a disability? Does your child have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder? According to the CDC, 1 in 68 children in the United States has been identified as having autism. That can be mild to severe, but either way, it requires special therapies, routines and diets. Access to speech and language supports, access to social skills training, being able to handle crowds and stores and school, all of these things affect families of children with autism.
The support and training that schools offer students with autism, particularly in Washington state, are second to none. Our teachers come from some of the best universities that specialize in working with autism. Paraprofessionals are available to help provide access to general education classrooms and other environments that enrich the lives of those students.
Are you a teacher with a special education student in your classroom? Did you and your students benefit from including and accepting a child with special needs into your classroom? Did you struggle? Was it disruptive? Did you have a special education teacher or paraprofessional help support you and the student in your class, giving them much-needed interaction and acceptance by their peers? Could you have done that without them?
Are you a special education teacher? Do you have a crowded classroom full of materials you have bought with your own money out of desperation because you are already over budget? You might have spent money on fidgets, special seats, rewards, science experiments, learning websites and materials. You do all of that and more. Do you wait out a tantrum, or sit with a child in trauma? Do you struggle to meet the needs of the many students you serve every day, with limited staff and resources? Do you go home tired and worried? Do you come back the next day with a smile on your face and open arms?
Do you have a disability? Did you have a special teacher, paraprofessional, or an occupational therapist who helped you through a difficult time? Taught you skills for coping, strategies to learn, and helped you make friends? Did you learn that even though you were different, that you were still special and worthwhile? Did you thrive?
Maybe you are one of these people. Maybe you aren’t. But someone is. I am. My parents and brother are. My wonderful special education team, students and families are. They matter. I matter. Special education funding in Washington state matters.
So ask yourself again, “Why should special education matter to me?”
Elizabeth Loftus teaches at Olympic View Elementary School in Oak Harbor. She is the Northwest Education Service District No. 189 Regional Teacher of the Year for 2017.